Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard on Seattle's Showbox, Yoko Ono, and Running

Plus, watch them perform "Gold Rush" and "Soul Meets Body" at KROQ

September 5, 2018

(Photo: KROQ)


By Scott T. Sterling

“There was just a really good atmosphere making this record,” Ben Gibbons explained to KROQ's Kat Corbett just moments after Death Cab for Cutie’s exclusive set at the HD Radio Sound Space about their new album, Thank You for Today. “The whole time we were making it, we were having such a good time, and ideas were flowing so well.”

The band’s naturally engaging frontman was in fine form, delivering thoughtful and occasionally profound answers to Corbett’s line of questioning.

“We would leave the studio and ask ourselves the question of like…I hope this is the doing a good job good feeling and not the delusional, I’m just happy and think I’m doing a good job good feeling,” he joked about the recording process. “Thankfully, as the record has gotten out to people we care about—the first people to hear it were the people closest to us—they’re always the most honest with us, and they had nice things to say, so. Hopefully, other people will feel the same way.”

Immediate fan response seems to agree with the band’s inner circle, as Thank You for Today debuted at No. 1 on both the Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums charts right out of the gate. The tally was enough to lodge the release at No. 13 on the all-genre Billboard 200, and score the group its first-ever top slot on the Vinyl Albums chart (via Billboard).

Thank You for Today comes sprinkled with some classic rock magic dust, as a sampling keyboard once owned by Stewart Copeland of the Police makes an appearance on the album.

“A very early digital sampler in the ‘80s—this is so nerdy and none of you are going to care—it’s a keyboard called the Fairlight CMI that was the precursor to the modern samplers,” explained Gibbard. “Stewart Copeland owned one in the ‘80s. Rich Costey, who produced our record, bought it from him some years ago. We used it on a few songs on the record” (“It still has some of his magic marker doodles on it,” the band shared on Twitter).

(Photo: KROQ)

The new DCFC full-length also arrives with significant influence from none less than the legendary artist, Yoko Ono. To say that Gibbard is passionate about Ono would be something of an understatement.

“I’ve been a huge Yoko Ono fan forever. Not just her art, but her music. This is a good opportunity to proselytize my feelings on Yoko Ono,” he told the assembled crowd of contest-winning fans. “There is this incredibly sexist narrative that has gone on forever that somehow Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, which is absolutely not true. It’s this dumb thing because adults can’t accept that maybe bands break up sometimes, so they have to blame it on a woman.

“I’m a firm believer that the records she was making in the early to mid-‘70s, be it Feeling the Space or Approximately Infinite Universe—which are now available. For the longest time they were out of print, but thankfully (record label) Secretly Canadian has got them back in print, you can stream them, you can tell me if you think I’m wrong—I think they’re on par if not better than some of the albums John (Lennon) was making at that period,” Gibbard declared. “She’s a wonderful songwriter. A lot of the avant-garde stuff that she was doing is what people think of when they think of Yoko Ono, and that’s certainly a part of what she did and does. But she was also a phenomenal songwriter.”

(Photo: KROQ)

Which brings us back to Ono’s presence on Thank You for Today: “I was at home listening to records as I often do, and I was listening to her record Fly,” Gibbard revealed. “The last song on the record is a song called ‘Mind Train,’ which is like a 20-minute, avant-garde kind of jam piece. It’s got this incredible groove to it in the first eight to 16 bars of it. I just kind of stopped like ‘whoa’ and kept moving the needle back and thinking, ‘I could probably flip that.’ So I used that as the basis of the song ‘Gold Rush.’ Or what became ‘Gold Rush,’ eventually.”

Corbett turned the talk to Gibbard’s love of ultrarunning, an extreme take on long distance running that’s done exclusively on steep wilderness trails and can last for up to more than one hundred miles. Gibbard’s participation in the grueling marathons is the focus of a recent Men’s Health magazine profile.

“I’ve been running ultramarathons for about six or seven years now. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I grew up hiking with my parents and spending time in the Olympic National Park and it was something that I always really loved. I love being out in the wilderness,” Gibbard explained. “As an adult, to discover that there are crazy people like me who like to go out and run and hike for literally days at a time—it’s this amazingly balancing thing that I’ve found in my life. It’s not for everybody. It is insane, it takes a lot of time. But it’s a wonderful community of people. Ultra runners are an amazing breed of people. They’re unlike any group of people I’ve ever encountered.

(Photo: KROQ)

“Honestly, that community reminds me of what the punk rock or indie rock community was early on,” he added. “Everybody is doing it because they want to do it. Nobody thinks they’re going to be famous or make money at it. It takes a lot of time and effort. You work with people to make these things happen. It’s connecting me back to people who don’t… I think as a musician, it’s very easy to spend your time with people who only do what you do. I think in general, in life, we would all benefit from spending time with people who are different than we are and learning about our differences. Ultrarunners, we have this one thing that connects us, which is our love of the mountains and running long distances, but we all come from different walks of life. I enjoy that a lot.”

Gibbard’s passions spilled over into an emotional moment while talking about the fateful of the Showbox, a legendary Seattle music venue that’s being threatened with demolition.

“To translate this into L.A. terms, it would be as if somebody decided hey, you know what’s a good idea? Instead of having the Troubadour here, or the Henry Fonda, let’s have 44 stories of luxury condos. That’s a better use of this space. The Showbox is a venue that’s been in our city for 80 years. Cab Calloway played there, Quincy Jones. It’s been a stop for every artist… it’s one of those places. It’s very special. Not only to us in Seattle, but to people who come through and play in our town. There’s been a huge groundswell of support from not only the musical community, but people in the city of Seattle. It gets kind of emotional to talk about,” he paused, tearing up.

“But it was amazing to see city council vote like eight-zero at least for the time being to save the space so that we can determine if there’s another step we can take to help save it,” he shared. “It’s very important… I think sometimes when old places are set for demolition, there is a naysaying voice that’s like, ‘well, this is just people who had good times there, and they wanna save it so they can live in their 20s again by having this place still exist.’ For me, it’s not so much that I have wonderful memories of being in the Showbox in my 20s, and my 30s and now my 40s. But more than that, I want this place to be preserved for young people today, so that they can form their own memories and they can perform at the Showbox and that this place can be passed on from generation to generation to generation. It will be a long fight.”

Inevitably, Gibbard was asked about making music in this time in American history under the divided shadow of the current political climate. In the process, he delivered the most compelling and sound endorsement for checking out Thank You for Today yet.

(Photo: KROQ)

“There are a lot of people who are really good at writing political songs. I’m not one of them,” he stated matter of factly. “We have never been shy about our political views. We’ve always been the first ones to show up with acoustic guitars for a cause that we agree with and we want to support. But at the same time, I’ve done some soul searching about what it is about this band that people like, and that also tends to be the things that I like. I came to the conclusion that in these trying times, we are all allowed a break from what’s going on in the world. We should allow ourselves time to just think about something other than this guy. It’s OK. you will all go insane if you spent every minute focusing on this person and everything this administration is doing. That’s not to say that we should put our heads in the sand, but if you want to spend 40 minutes listening to an indie rock record about something other than the White House, this is the record for you.”